My Boss, My Hero (2001) Movie Review

It probably behooves me not to take everything I see in movies seriously, as cinema is at best fictional versions of the truth, and at worst pure fabrications of some fevered writer’s imagination. Still, according to my viewing of South Korean movies, I think it is safe to assume that the life of an average high school student in Korea is 100 times worst than their American counterparts. According to all the Korean movies I have seen set in high school, a teacher holds supreme dominance over his students, and resorting to corporal punishment (say, a physical slap to the face with the hand, or a strike with a wooden object) is not “resorting” at all, but rather routine. Try this in an American classroom and that teacher will be doing 5 to 10 years the following week.

Being that “My Boss, My Hero” is about a Korean gangster sent back to high school to get his diploma in order to be promoted up the ranks of his criminal organization, the life of a highschooler in Korea seems of most importance. Also taking into consideration that “Boss” is advertised as a comedy, it is safe to assume that much of the situations encountered in “Boss”‘s fictional high school is exaggerated for comedy’s sake. But just how much is exaggerated and how much is truth? Since I have only studied Korean history and politics and have barely gleaned over high school life in Korea, I couldn’t tell you what is truth and what is fiction.

Jun-ho Jeong is Do-shik, the gangster in question, who is ordered back to high school because no one takes him seriously without a diploma. (Why diplomas should matter a lick in an organization composed of brutes and mindless drones, I couldn’t tell you.) Woong-in Jeong is Sang-do, Do-shik’s right hand man. In American mafia jargon, Do-shik is the capo and Sang-do the underboss, although a second underboss name Head, a loud and brash fellow, is at odds with the quite and astute Sang-do. When Do-shik goes incognito as a student, Sang-do becomes Do-shik’s “uncle,” which is convenient since Sang-do starts pursuing Do-shik’s attractive English teacher!

For much of its running length, “Boss” is a comedy, although much of the comedy comes as the result of heavy plot contrivances. For instance, although Do-shik is undercover in high school, why does he allow other students to physically abuse him at a whim? Sure, he doesn’t want to spoil his cover, thus ruining his chances of graduation, but why doesn’t he just drag the school bully outside, beat him up, and warn him not to let the incident out? After all, later in the film Do-shik beats the bully in class in front of everyone! This, and many other comedy moments, comes at the cost of credibility. Also, if Do-shik has already bought his way into the school, why doesn’t he just buy the diploma as well? (Then there wouldn’t be a movie, dummy! Oh, right.)

At the hour point, “Boss” ceases to be a comedy and turns melodramatic. The turning point comes when a faculty member storms into a classroom and physically assaults a female student within an inch of her life. The scene is brutal and considerably out of place in what had, up to this point, been a comedy. There is also a subplot about grade manipulations and faculty members in cahoots with gangsters to “extort” money from the students and their parents. All of this is rather silly and not worth mentioning beyond this point.

When “My Hero, My Boss” works, it’s quite funny. Consider a scene when two gangs meet up to battle, and the fighters start “tagging” each other in to take his place in the fight. Very funny stuff. Unfortunately there are not enough funny moments to warrant calling “Boss” a comedy, and the melodrama at the one-hour mark is simply out of place, turning a mild comedy into a joke.

Je-gyun Yun (director) / Je-gyun Yun (screenplay)
CAST: Jun-ho Jeong …. Gye Do-shik
Woong-in Jeong …. Kim Sang-do
Un-taek Jeong …. Dae Ka-ri

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